EU funding of stem-cell research to be allowed under strict conditions

November 20, 2003

Strasbourg, 19 Nov 2003


Report on the proposal for a Council decision amending decision 2002/834/EC on the specific programme for research, technological development and demonstration: "Integrating and strengthening the European research area" (2002-2006)

( COM(2003) 390 - C5-0349/2003 - 2003/0151(CNS))

Doc.: A5-0369/2003 [may not be available yet]

Procedure: Consultation

Debate: 17.11.2003

Vote: 19.11.2003


In a highly charged and emotional vote today, Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution with 300 votes in favour, 210 against and 19 abstentions in favour of amending a Commission proposal on a set of strict ethical guidelines for deciding on and monitoring EU funding of research involving the derivation of embryonic stem cells from human supernumerary embryos. Most MEPs supported allowing research to be financed from the EU's sixth framework programme budget (2002-2006), albeit under tight ethical conditions. All of the amendments tabled to plenary seeking to impose even stricter conditions on the use of stem cell research were rejected. Speaking immediately prior to the final votes, Mr Peter LIESE (EPP-ED, D) stated that he had failed to persuade his colleagues to agree a "compromise position" and he advised voting against the legislative resolution. Mr Liese also "disassociated" himself with the outcome of the vote. Parliament is being consulted on this legislative proposal but the Council of Ministers has the final say.

Stem cell research raises ethical questions, particularly when it involves the use of embryonic stem cells derived from human supernumerary embryos (see News Report 25-04-2003) There is a great diversity of views among EU Member States concerning the ethical acceptability of various research fields. Scientists are hopeful that stem cell research will provide essential progress in the development of therapies in several fields of medicine. This is particularly the case for the treatment of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's but also for more common diseases like diabetes.

Parliament's amendments focus on a number of areas. First, it calls for the scrapping of any cut-off date for the procurement of human embryos used for the procurement of stem cells. This position was adopted with 291 votes in favour, 235 against with 12 abstentions. The Commission had proposed that EU funded research may only use existing human supernumerary embryos that were created before June 2002, the date of adoption by Parliament and Council of the sixth framework programme. MEPs also say that whether or not to allow funding of research on the use of human stem cells should depend both on the contents of the scientific proposal and the legal framework of the Member States involved. Research using adult stem cells and reprogrammed adult cells should get priority for financing. However, MEPs voted in favour of maintaining the Commission's proposal that all other alternative methods (including existing or adult stem cell lines) must have been examined and demonstrated not to be sufficient for the purposes of the research in question. In addition, research on embryo or foetal stem cells deriving from spontaneous or therapeutic abortion may be funded. MEPs insist that no monetary compensation or any other consideration may be granted or promised for the donation of embryos used for the recovery of stem cells.

In order to ensure transparency in EU funding of research activities involving human adult or embryonic stem cells, the Commission will publish yearly a list of research projects involving the use of human embryonic stem cells funded under the sixth framework programme. Parliament adds that in the case of research projects with embryonic stem cells, such publication must include a justification stating why other procedures were not usable.

Press enquiries: Richard Freedman (Strasbourg) tel.(33-3) 881 73785 (Brussels)  tel.(32-2) 28 41448 e-mail :

European Parliament Daily Notebook 2003-11-19

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